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I Saw the TV Glow Takes Us on a Psychic Trip About Obsessive Fandom

Jane Schoenbrun’s transcendent sophomore effort examines how we consume and connect with media.

Directed by Jane Schoenbrun

by Prabhjot Bains

We all have that one song, TV show, or movie that stays with us. A piece of media so comforting, so formative, that it not only offers us an escape but ultimately shapes who we become. Writer-director Jane Schoenbrun’s sophomore outing, I Saw the TV Glow, powerfully examines that experience, taking us on a surreal, psychic trip that uses every crevice of the frame to both unmoor and hypnotize audiences. It’s an experience that’s as stylistically bold as it is emotionally introspective, mining profound truths about how we consume media, how our relationships with it change over time, and how much of who we are is intrinsically tied to it. Its soundtrack, filled with indie earworms, only serves to empower its vivid, impressionistic tapestry.

I Saw the TV Glow centres on loners Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). They bond over a show called The Pink Opaque — a charming analogue to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with its similarly corny credit sequence, teen melodrama, and supernatural elements. Mostly spanning from 1996 to the mid-2010s, the film navigates Owen and Maddy’s obsessive relationship with The Pink Opaque, which begins to blur the lines of reality even past its cancellation and Maddy’s sudden disappearance.

There’s a comforting, yet disarming stream of liminality that runs through I Saw the TV Glow. Schoenbrun’s confident lens basks in the haunting beauty of empty spaces, engrossing us in the minutiae of each scene as well as the whole. Along with Director of Photography Eric K. Yue, Schoenbrun crafts some of the most intricately designed and immersive liminal spaces ever committed to celluloid. They brim with an equally inviting and unsettling fluorescent glow, beautifully evoking the dimly screen-lit rooms that continue to define our sense of nostalgia.

I Saw the TV Glow unfolds less like a movie and more like a stream of consciousness, littered with abrupt time jumps, risky tonal shifts, and characters who narrate directly to the camera. It all works to cast an intoxicating spell, one that feels especially Lynchian in its lengthy and wonderfully odd digressions. Even its live musical performances feel like a stirring continuation of the ones seen in Twin Peaks: The Return.

On a sonic level, I Saw the TV Glow not only gives us one of the best soundtracks in years, but one of the most thematically rich, featuring hits from Yeule, Caroline Polachek, Florist, Phoebe Bridgers, and King Woman, to name a few. Frances Quinlan’s “Another Season” is an especially bittersweet closing track. Even Lindsey Erin Jordan (AKA Snail Mail) joins the fray, playing a key role in The Pink Opaque, while Limp Bizkit icon, Fred Durst, stars as Owen’s father in a nearly wordless performance. Alex G, who previously collaborated with Schoenbrun on her debut film, We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, and once again takes charge of the film’s score, conjures another mysterious, melancholic soundscape. His original compositions meet the film where it’s at, lending the otherworldly moments real emotional poignancy.

Schoenbrun’s film understands that while our favourite movies and shows aren’t necessarily indicative of real life, they play an integral role in helping us decipher it. They shine a light on the most authentic parts of ourselves, despite how hard we may be trying to hide them. It all coalesces in a deeply illuminating film that’s also one of the year’s best.